Last week, I had a chance to visit some of the United Kingdom’s nuclear facilities in Barrow and Sellafield.
We landed in Manchester, and made our way to Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to visit International Nuclear Services — an important provider of global nuclear shipping services. After learning about its shipping programs, we boarded the Pacific Egret and Capt. Richard Walby led us on a great tour of the ship. Capt. Richard explained how this impressive vessel safely maneuvers the seas, has a 25-year life span, and is capable of meeting a variety of global nuclear shipping needs.
The following day, we met with Under Secretary Paul Dabbar, Phil Hallington from Sellafield Ltd., the company tasked with cleaning up the Sellafield site, and Alan Cumming from the U.K. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). We toured the Sellafield site and discussed its mission, history, and present-day challenges. The Sellafield site is extremely compact — I compared it to taking many of our EM facilities from across the U.S. and condensing them into a single two-square-mile site! They don’t have a lot of room to maneuver over there! We toured several of the site’s main facilities, including the Magnox Storage Pond and the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo Facility. We were able to see firsthand some of the biggest waste management challenges they face, including performing sludge removal and waste retrievals from their facilities. The tour made me realize how grateful I am for our federal and commercial waste disposal routes that we have available to us in the U.S. — and to the communities that host these facilities.
On the tour, I witnessed the very beginning of the cleanout of the Magnox Storage Pond. I especially liked talking to the workers who were using manipulators to cut materials in the storage ponds. Clearly, they were all very proud to be a part of the first cleanout activities. Great job, guys! We ended the day with a roundtable discussion with representatives from NDA, Sellafield, and the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL). It was great to discuss our experiences and perspectives on cleanup and waste management, and it was especially fun to hear about everyone’s experiences at DOE and U.K. sites. Many of the people who attended the roundtable had visited or worked at a DOE site — a great way to exchange information.
Wednesday was filled with discussions and presentations on major topics, including approaches to contracting, low-level waste management, waste classification, technology development and deployment, and regulatory and stakeholder engagement.
At the end of the day, we transitioned to our Standing Committee meeting with NDA and NNL. DOE, NDA, and NNL work together under a Statement of Intent (SOI), which allows for the U.K. and the U.S. to engage in discussion on environmental management and waste management topics. We had a productive session, identifying several areas of continued and new engagement that could be beneficial to both programs. I really enjoyed working with Alan Cumming, and appreciated his desire to make progress and demonstrate the benefit of our SOI. He and I share a very similar view on what success looks like, and I’m looking forward to our continued partnership.
Our trip ended with a tour of the NNL located at the Sellafield site. We saw the pilot-scale GeoMelt vitrification rig as well as the new hot cells that are being commissioned for work to support analytical services for D&D at Sellafield. Kerry Burns gave us a great explanation of some technology they use at NNL to evaluate their GeoMelt tests. Kerry previously spent time at the Savannah River Site as part of a technical exchange with NNL, and I really enjoyed hearing about her time at DOE and NNL.
I want to thank all of our U.K. hosts, especially Alan Cumming, John Mathieson, Graham Jonsson, and Laurie Judd for facilitating such a wonderful trip and tour. I am excited to continue our engagement!